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State Library of Victoria reflects on history

The State Library of Victoria is showcasing a digital projection exhibition of 140 photographs that aims to ‘hold up a mirror to the world and reflect our innermost thoughts and feelings’.

MIRROR: New views on photography includes post-war photography and contemporary images, with curators Jade Hadfield, Kate Rhodes and Linda Short searching deep within the Library’s archive to find images to fit the concept.

In some cases the curators simply selected images that show mirrors of reflections – expanded to include dopplegangers, double exposures, twins, symmetry, or patterns. In other cases the ‘mirror’ theme is more conceptual and esoteric.

The exhibition includes plenty of familiar names, with no shortage of legends of Australian photography. Rennie Ellis, Helmut Newton, Wolfgang Sievers, Maggie Diaz, Ruth Maddison, Sue Ford, Viva Gibb, Mark Strizic, Robert Whitaker, along with many others. The Library also commissioned a handful of Victorian artists to contribute non-photographic works in response to the photography series.

A glance of the online image catalogue shows that by setting a conceptual boundary, the curators have selected lesser-known images by the aforementioned photographers.

Rhodes states the exhibition was partly conceptualised during Covid-19 lockdowns.

‘We spent so many hours on Zoom – for work meetings, birthday parties, dinner parties, we were constantly looking at ourselves. Our computers were our connection to the outside world, but they were also a mirror to performances of ourselves,’ she said. ‘The idea to select images from the collection that related to that theme, and its many synonyms, was apt and asking storytellers to reflect on the images and create new responses was really exciting.’

Hadfield endeavoured to find ‘that diversity,… the marginalised, the overlooked’, she tells The Age, to counter the Library’s historical collecting bias which the publication labels ‘white, patriarchal, colonial’.

‘The complete set of 141 photographs can be viewed in 2 ‘cinemas’ within the gallery, along with new images documenting how they are stored in the collection,’ the curators write in the exhibition publication. ‘Collectively, the images convey the breadth of the Library’s photography collection. Yet they also reflect absence. We acknowledge that not all Victorians will see pictures relatable to themselves or their families or cultures. Not everyone in the photographs is named. The images represent historical institutional blind spots which are being corrected. This exhibition draws attention to how we grow the State Library Victoria Collection, and the ever-present invitation for others to tell stories about, around and against it.’

The exhibition doesn’t include physical prints, but displays the images through digital projectors. It’s not the finest way to view photography, but Hadfield highlights it allows images to be projected four metres tall.

‘I’m all about objects and the physical, but I love the opportunities this will provide for engagement with the collection,’ she said. ‘It’s about changing people’s perspective of the library. Using this technology, using digital, it changes people’s idea about what we do.’

MIRROR: New views on photography is showing at the State Library of Victoria until January 28, 2024.

Security surveillance at Ford research division, Broadmeadows plant, 1970. Photograph: Wolfgang Sievers.
Unidentified girl near a shopfront, with the reflection of a boy on a bike in the window, Gardenvale. Photograph: Maggie Diaz
Gordon, young man, punk, Greville Street Prahran. 1985. Photograph: Rennie Ellis.
Muslim women at the end of Ramadan fasting, 1994. Photograph: Viva Gibb
Terylene promotion, 1952-58. Photograph: Helmut Newton.

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